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Shame

August 24th, 2009 · 28 Comments

I don’t know why, in light of everything else that’s already come to light—we clearly did worse than making horrific but (I presume) idle threats—but this bit of the recent interrogation report filled me with a profound sense of sadness and shame:

CIA interrogators threatened to kill the children of one detainee at the height of the Bush administration’s war on terror and implied that another’s mother would be sexually assaulted, newly declassified documents revealed Monday as the government launched a criminal investigation into the spy agency’s “unauthorized, improvised, inhumane” practices [....] In one instance, suspect Abd al-Nashiri, the alleged mastermind of the 2000 USS Cole bombing, was hooded and handcuffed and threatened with an unloaded gun and a power drill. The unidentified interrogator also threatened Nashiri’s mother and family, implying that they would be sexually abused in front of him, according to the report.

I suppose that’s the great anti-patriotic sin according to conservatives—feeling shame about something America’s done.  I’ve never really understood why. If it were, I don’t know, Australia that had done it, or if I didn’t expect any better of the United States, I might feel disgust, but not shame. If patriotism means that you identify with a country, believe in its ideals, and have some kind of standard of honor for the conduct of its representatives that flows from those ideals, then doesn’t it pretty much require you to feel shame in a case like this?  In any event, that’s what I feel.

I guess what especially turns my stomach here is that the idea wasn’t just to inflict mental anguish on a presumably odious man in order to extract information. It was to inflict that pain by exploiting, as a weakness, whatever flicker of nobility or love remained in an otherwise wretched soul. It was a method of torture that would have been effective only because and to the extent there was something human left in him. Maybe I’m being overly sentimental, but every cell in my body is telling me this is sick and wrong.

Addendum: The full report is, of course, worth reading—here’s the AP summary if you don’t have a few hours to spare. This image lodged in my head, but that hardly means it’s the worst thing in there. For instance:

Perhaps the most serious case involved an Afghan citizen, who had been implicated in rocket attacks on U.S. military bases. Once captured, in June of 2003, the suspect was held at a military base. “During the four days the individual was detained, an Agency independent contractor, who was a paramilitary officer, is alleged to have severely beaten the detainee with a large metal flashlight and kicked him during interrogation sessions.” The detainee died in custody. The contractor, who had not been trained or authorized to conduct interrogations, received a relatively light punishment. He did not have his contract renewed by the CIA.

Addendum II: Actually, the more I think about it, it’s hard for me to imagine that the physical suffering is any worse than holding a sincere belief that a group of soldiers are going to rape and murder your family.

Tags: Moral Philosophy · War


       

 

28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Aug 24, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    I suppose, the advantage of being shameless is not having to consider the decency of an enemy or a patriot.

  • 2 fnook // Aug 24, 2009 at 9:46 pm

    I suppose that’s the great anti-patriotic sin according to conservatives—feeling shame about something America’s done.

    Yes, it is, and kudos to you for shrugging off the weight of this insidious tick and calling a spade a spade. If the story is correct, it is horrific and inhumane and, importantly, those responsible must be identified and call to account.

  • 3 southpaw // Aug 24, 2009 at 9:57 pm

    Well said.

  • 4 Dan Summers // Aug 25, 2009 at 9:40 am

    If objecting to the wholesale degradation of our national sense of decency is being “overly sentimental,” I’ll take the sentiment, thanks.

  • 5 Alex Russell // Aug 25, 2009 at 10:22 am

    If patriotism means that you identify with a country, believe in its ideals, and have some kind of standard of honor for the conduct of its representatives that flows from those ideals, then doesn’t it pretty much require you to feel shame in a case like this?

    I think the slipknot with something like that comes where patriotism means that you identify with a country and you believe that your country fulfills its ideals 100%. In which light even asking whether something contradicts its ideals becomes unpatriotic… as can even close examination or specification of the ideals themselves or which ones are meant, that are really what that belief should refer to.

    I’ve seen the same weirdness in people who have thought that their ideological/ideational cluster is the one that upholds the Constitution and its rights 100%… but who therefore, in unmarked fashion, mean by those things the particular balances of imperatives and impressions held by that cluster – so that even some court decisions that very specifically turn on and uphold specific Constitutional guarantees are simply seen as “pro-criminal”, and wrong, without need for examination. (Because that can’t be the real Constitution, because our views uphold the Constitution 100%!)

  • 6 Dom // Aug 25, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Some perspective is in order here.

    I was once held overnight in a Mexican jail, not for any wrongdoing, just the usual government extortion plot — pay me and I’ll let you go. The treatment was far worse than *unloaded* guns and being told “I’m going to F*** your mother”.

    And let’s face it — the man who filled 17 Americans and who probably knows what goes on in his own country’s jails, is not going to call this treatment “inhumane and horrific”.

  • 7 Bjorn // Aug 25, 2009 at 10:57 am

    It is amazing how many caveats you had to write to get to ‘shame’. OF COURSE we should be sad and ashamed that this was done in our name. We were told it was required to win the ‘War on Terror’ that we be as terrible as the enemy, and we bought it. Our fear and weakness led to this, and we should ALL be ashamed.

    The worst is that there are still ‘patriots’ who believe this kind of action was justified.

  • 8 Mara // Aug 25, 2009 at 11:10 am

    Dom is typical of those who have consistantly excused torture and brutality. “THEY do far worse things than this, so why are you so upset?!”

    As for some perspective, instead of presenting an annecdote, try this quote from our own George Washington on for size -

    “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]. . . I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require. Should it extend to death itself, it will not be disproportional to its guilt at such a time and in such a cause… for by such conduct they bring shame, disgrace and ruin to themselves and their country.” – G. Washington

    Even in the brutal past, when such brutal acts were expected and ignored, WE were better than that.

  • 9 southpaw // Aug 25, 2009 at 11:36 am

    They threatened to kill his kids, Dom.

  • 10 the teeth // Aug 25, 2009 at 11:44 am

    Claiming the interrogators said “I’m going to F*** your mother” is absurdly misleading. Similar phrases are commonly used as hyperbolic fighting words, and widely understood as non-literal. It’s a completely different thing to threaten to actually, in the real-real-world, rape somebody’s mother, at least if the prisoner believes you have the means and will to make good on the threat. Pretty damn shameful, in fact.

  • 11 Worth Repeating « cubiyanqui // Aug 25, 2009 at 11:45 am

    [...] Julian Sanchez, Shame [...]

  • 12 james woodyatt // Aug 25, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    I don’t mean to invalidate your emotions, but I’m not feeling shame so much as revulsion. But then, perhaps, living in San Francisco as I do, I’ve gotten so used to being called anti-patriotic and other worse things, that I’ve been overwhelmed by it and succumbed. I’d prefer not to believe that, but… revuslsion, more than shame… I worry.

  • 13 Dom // Aug 25, 2009 at 12:14 pm

    Mara: “…torture and brutality…” Is that what you call an unloaded gun and a threat that you can hear on any street in most countries?

    “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner] …” Who was injured? This wasn’t a post on waterboarding.

    Southpaw: “They threatened to kill his kids, Dom.” He killed 17 Americans, who will not see their kids. He sent people into suicide attacks, who will not see their kids. My guess is that at some point in his career, he even sent kids into suicide attacks. This mass-murderer is dripping in blood. Threatening to kill his kids, which he considers a blessing anyway, is not “horrific”, it is a mild threat.

  • 14 Ferny // Aug 25, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    And here I thought we were better than that, Dom. Also, additionally – you’re pretty sure that in a Mexican prison, you have recourse.

    In G-Bay? In the hands of the most powerful country in mankind’s history?

    I expect you don’t have any expectation of recourse.

  • 15 Mike // Aug 25, 2009 at 1:28 pm

    The Mexican comparison would work if we were claiming that the US was the worst country in the world, and the only one that commits shameful acts. I don’t think anyone has claimed that.

    They have claimed, and often the people supporting these acts have claimed as well, that the US aspires to be a better country than most third-world despots. A country of laws and rights and ideals that acts of torture and abuse completely ignore and disrespect.

    If the only defense for American conduct is “it’s better than Mexico/Libya/Sudan/Somalia” then how do the patriots still claim we are the best country in the world?

  • 16 Gil // Aug 25, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Shame seems like something to feel about your own individual behavior.

    I also don’t feel pride when an American wins a gold medal. I didn’t do it.

  • 17 The Torture Never Stops « Around The Sphere // Aug 25, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    [...] Julian Sanchez [...]

  • 18 southpaw // Aug 25, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    It’s not that I don’t understand the impulse to dash his little ones against the rocks; we all do. But we’re ashamed of it. We like to think the society we defend is a place where we don’t murder children, or contemplate the murder of children, to cause our enemies pain. I like to think that’s part of what make our civilization worth defending (and defending honorably).

  • 19 jre // Aug 25, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    Threatening to kill his kids, which he considers a blessing anyway, is not “horrific”, it is a mild threat.

    We now have the shameless end of the spectrum pretty well defined.

  • 20 Dom // Aug 25, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    “We now have the shameless end of the spectrum pretty well defined.”

    I’m pretty sure that was already defined by Abd al-Nashiri’s mass-murder.

  • 21 jre // Aug 25, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Ah, the frothy topping of self-righteousness over a savory bed of sadism. There’s nothing that smells quite like it.

  • 22 Consumatopia // Aug 25, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Yeah, if something horrible is done to you or those you love, it’s natural to want to just go crazy on the guy who did it. But your friends are the ones who are holding you back, not the ones egging you on.

  • 23 Who We Are or Think We Are « Just Above Sunset // Aug 26, 2009 at 2:12 am

    [...] That very American, or it isn’t. After hearing that a CIA interrogator threatened to kill the children of a detainee, at least Julian Sanchez feels shame: [...]

  • 24 Dom // Aug 26, 2009 at 9:49 am

    Who in this story is “going crazy” or seeking revenge? Not the CIA officials. They are extracting information from someone who probably knows of other plots of mass murder.

    Perhaps no one here has digested the extent of this monster’s crime. Here is some perspective. Milosovic ordered the murder of 14 people in a certain villiage. This is listed as one of his “crimes against humanity”. I’m sure no one here would argue that point. Abd al-Nashiri ordered the murder of 17 people and he belongs to an organization that in later years would kill almost 3000 people. Preventing further horrific crimes of this nature was the only reason for his interrogation.

  • 25 james woodyatt // Aug 26, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    Southpaw: It’s not that I don’t understand the impulse to dash his little ones against the rocks; we all do.

    I don’t. I simply don’t. Speak for your own damned self.

  • 26 Claude // Aug 26, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    Dom, are you really certain that “preventing further horrific crimes of this nature was the only reason for his interrogation” ? (*cough* torture *cough*) It’s been pretty well-documented that a lot of the waterboarding was done to try and get the prisoners (sorry, “monsters”) to confess to a link between al-Q and Iraq, where none in fact existed. Are you equally comfortable with torture in that situation? And if not, why not?

  • 27 Dom // Aug 26, 2009 at 3:49 pm

    Yes, it was done to prevent further crimes. And it was successful. This is from the IG report that started this post. The redacting was done by the Obama administration:
    ——————–
    With respect to al Nashiri [redacted] reported two waterboard sessions in November 2002, after which the psychologist/interrogations determined that al Nashiri was compliant. However, after being moved [redacted] al Nashiri was thought to be withholding information. Al Nashiri subsequently received additional EITs, [redacted] but not the waterboard. The Agency then determined al Nashiri to be “compliant.” Because of the litany of technique used by different interrogators over a relatively short period of time, it is difficult to identify why exactly al Nashiri became more willing to provide information. However, following the use of EITs, he provided information about his most current operational planning and [redacted] as opposed to the historical information he provided before the use of EITs.
    —————————
    I have not read the full report, but so far I have not seen a primary reference indicating that waterboarding was done only to provide a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda.

    Why did you put “monsters” in scare quotes like that? You understand that he was a mass-murderer, right?

  • 28 your1stopspot.com » Further Adventures In Torture Equivalencies // Aug 26, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    [...] this point, I think it’s worthwhile to consider the thoughtful way libertarian blogger Julian Sanchez responded to the news that these were among the interrogation tactics being used by t…: I guess what especially turns my stomach here is that the idea wasn’t just to inflict mental [...]

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